I remember the day in exquisite detail. My bride of nine months and I had been out walking around Stillwater, Oklahoma. It was a warm, late summer day. We had come inside and were watching Murder, She Wrote. I have Angela Lansbury flashing through my head as I write this. The phone rang. It was my momma. I heard immediately she was upset, and this worried me.
Daddy had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer ten months before. He’d undergone a rather draconian surgery in the OKC Veterans Hospital and had to miss our wedding. Jean and I had gone to see him the day after we were wed. The surgery had affected the nerves to his vocal chords and he still couldn’t speak above a whisper.
He fought his way back from that. By the summer he was mowing the lawn again. Then he’d gotten a pain in his hip. They’d started treating it with radiation. Then there was the bowel blockage.
The cruelest thing was the hope I had. Silly, silly boy. It was going to turn out differently for Daddy. He was going to beat it. I was only twenty-four. What the hell did I know?
While We Were Out Walking
Dad had returned home from the Veterans Hospital after having had his stomach pumped. They’d stopped at a store on the way back and Dad had gone into the store alone to buy medicine or Gatorade or something like that. He’d also gotten some shotgun shells.
That warm Saturday evening, while my wife and I were out walking one-hundred miles away, Dad had shaved his face, wiped out the sink with a wash rag, and went back into his bedroom, closing the door.
Momma and my brother heard a sharp sound. They thought he’d fallen. When my mother spoke on the phone, she said, “Your daddy has shot himself.”
Whenever I mention this to someone, many will begin to tell me that they believe in physician-assisted suicide. I know this is kindly meant, but I would ask you to please refrain from doing this, at least to me.
This should not be easy. It should not be easy. It should Not. Be. Easy. This act sent out shockwaves that still reverberate after twenty-six years. For years I had recurring nightmares of my father dead and yet undead. Among us, but ever in threat of being taken away. When I dream of him now, which is rarely, it is in the same way.
This would not have been made easier by us standing around him holding hands and singing Kumbaya.
The Age He Was
After Dad died, Jean and I decided that life was just too damn short and we started our family. Our eldest was born seventeen months later. Jean’s father got to know all three of his granddaughters and meet the man the eldest was to marry.
Forgiveness is a continuing process. As I’ve grown older, it has become harder for me to forgive my father. Ironically, this is because as I’ve become older, I’ve become a lot more like him. I was born when Dad was forty-five years old. He was fifty before I knew how old he was. I have come into the age he was when I first knew him. We are entering the circle.
Bobby Winters is assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and professor of mathematics at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas. He blogs at Redneck Mouth and Okie in Exile. “While We Were Walking 100 Miles Away” is adapted from his “Poppa Was a Rolling Stone,” published on Okie in Exile.
The picture is used by permission of olekinderhook and taken from Panoramio.